From ‘Buffy' to ‘The Shape of Water’: The Career of Doug Jones, Our Favorite Eerie Tall Guy
The way the Academy Awards are set up, it is numerically impossible for every actor or actress in a film nominated for Best Picture to be themselves individually nominated in the Best Actor or Best Actress categories. But it is sort of weird when that overlap doesn’t happen, isn’t it?
If the Best Picture nominees are the best films of the year, wouldn’t they feature the best performances? Think of Michael Stuhlbarg this year—he absolutely should have been nominated for his supporting turn in Call Me By Your Name; his final speech is one of the most meaningful things I saw in cinema in 2017. Or the 89th Academy Awards, when Arrival was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a slew of technical awards, but Amy Adams wasn’t nominated for Best Actress. Or Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae not getting nods for Hidden Figures, or the year before, Charlize Theron not being recognized for Mad Max: Fury Road, which had 10 nominations otherwise. Or the year before that, David Oyelowo being ignored for Selma, and Miles Teller for Whiplash (his career peak). It’s just a reality of the Best Picture field being open to 10 nominations while everything else remains at five, but every year there are snubs and exclusions, and every year we can complain about them!
• Best Picture for del Toro and J. Miles Dale
• Best Director for del Toro
• Best Actress for Sally Hawkins
• Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer
• Best Actor for Richard Jenkins
• Best Original Screenplay for del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who also wrote 2014’s Divergent and the upcoming Disney live-action remake of Aladdin)
• Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat (who previously won an Oscar for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel)
• Best Sound Editing for Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira
• Best Sound Mixing for Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier
• Best Production Design for Paul Denham Austerberry, with set direction by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin
• Best Cinematography for Dan Laustsenater (who previously shot del Toro’s films Crimson Peak and Mimic, the movie which del Toro described as a hateful experience because he had to work with Harvey Weinstein)
• Best Costume Design for Luis Sequeira (who worked with del Toro on his FX show The Strain)
• Best Film Editing for Sidney Wolinsky
From those repeat del Toro collaborators, it’s pretty clear that he inspires loyalty—and in no partnership is that more clear than his with actor Doug Jones, who has appeared in numerous del Toro films over the years. It’s frustrating, then, that Jones wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, or a Golden Globe, or any other high-level award for his work as the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water—and maybe he’s the kind of actor who will never be recognized in this way, but why the hell not?!
To see Jones’s work is to at least respect him, and in my specific case, adore him. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say about an actor who is more often than not extremely creepy, but Jones just brings so much damn detail to his work. He’s a super-intentional physical performer; he often moves his long, elegant fingers and his gangly limbs in especially bizarre ways, and del Toro seems fixated on the man’s teeth. His face is tremendously expressive, even under layers of makeup and prosthetics in The Shape of Water, the Hellboy films, and “Hush,” one of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And if you want to be a naysayer and argue that his acting is primarily dependent on physical style, fine, do that. But you cannot deny that the man makes one hell of an impression.
Need proof? See for yourself in the gifs below, which I’ve collected to put together a menagerie of Jones’s career. He is just so good, and please excuse me while I curl into a ball and try not to think about “Hush” too much. (Oh, and please see The Shape of Water if you haven’t already. IT IS ALSO SO GOOD, and I’m rooting for it at the Oscars because Mudbound got ignored for Best Picture and Best Director and I’m still pretty salty about that.)
1993: Billy Butcherson in the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus. Look at how cute and fresh-faced Jones is, even as a sassy corpse!
The beginning of my affection.
1998: Various alien characters in three episodes of The Outer Limits, which my brother and I always caught reruns of while my parents were asleep. As a tween, The X-Files and The Outer Limits were the scariest things I watched, and it makes sense that Jones appeared on the latter as a precursor to so many other alien roles later in his career.
1999: The lead gentleman in “Hush,” one of my top five favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was probably too young to be watching Buffy as it aired (still, Angel > Spike, forever), and that was cemented with “Hush,” an episode that legitimately made it difficult for me to sleep for years.
I was definitely still having nightmares about this episode into my young adulthood, especially when I went away to college myself.
I think this role is where you see the first of Jones’s most familiar mannerisms: the smooth way he moves, how utterly in control he is of his body, even as his face is a frozen mask, and how he uses his hands and fingers in uncanny ways. Shudder.
2002: USPS worker Joey in Men in Black II. I guess my sense of humor isn’t that sophisticated because I still crack up at the different aliens-living-as-humans described in MIB, even if they so often appeal to our most simplistic understandings of human behavior—this person is different from me, they must be an unknowable other! But I am here for the brief glimpse of Doug Jones with a very-CGI face.
The wig and sunglasses are nice touches, too.
2004: Abe Sapien in del Toro’s first Hellboy film. Jones had already worked with del Toro in the aforementioned Mimic, but his role as Abe Sapien was far larger than what he did as Long John #2. Jones was responsible for the physical movements of Abe Sapien while Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce handled his voice, but what a successful partnership it was.
Jones’s mannered, peculiar performance of Abe Sapien made him a fan favorite, and it’s obvious to see why. He was the most spirited character in a cast of rag-tag weirdos. What’s not to love?
2005: Sleepwalking murderer Cesare in the remake of the classic silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I don’t think anything can compare with the original Caligari, a masterpiece of German silent horror whose imagery and visual style has cast a long shadow over the genre. But it certainly makes sense to cast Jones as Cesare—he gets the look right, even if the movie itself probably didn’t need to exist.
2006: Fauno (the fawn) and the monstrous Pale Man in del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. There is an undercurrent of danger in Pan’s Labyrinth, and I think Jones is responsible for a lot of it. The ancient, unknowable nature of his fawn, whose feral qualities (those awkward, shuffling movements!) put a sinister spin on his offer to Ofelia.
And I really can’t talk about the Pale Man without feeling panicky and afraid; sometimes if my boyfriend wants to freak me out he peeks around a hallway with his hands over his eyes, opening and closing them while staying totally silent, until I see him out of my peripheral vision and freak out. (I swear, we care about each other.)
He’s got nothing on Doug Jones, but how many other actors can make just one move so impossibly scary?
2007: Norrin Radd/the Silver Surfer in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Look, the less said about this movie, the better. But the image of Jones in that silver getup was everywhere while promoting this film, and although Laurence Fishburne voiced the character, it was probably nice exposure for Jones. Even though the movie was awful. And produced scenes like this one.
2008: Abe Sapien, Chamberlain, and the Angel of Death in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Could three characters be any more different? The goofy, innocent Abe Sapien is pretty much the prototype for del Toro’s Amphibian Man; the latter is a little more sinister and has some more fins, but the look is clearly the same. (And this time around, Jones got to voice the character himself, making the performance truly his in a way it couldn’t be when David Hyde Pierce was voice acting.)
And hot damn, is Chamberlain immediately gross (so much wrinkly, papery skin!), while the Angel of Death is simultaneously beautiful (the eyeballs blinking in the wings!) and grotesque.
With the Angel of Death, I think you again recognize Jones’s specific movements; the character moves very similarly to the Gentleman, and is also in line with Jones’s later work in Crimson Peak.
2013 to 2015: Cochise in Falling Skies, that alien-invasion show on TNT that somehow lasted FIVE SEASONS. So many years after The Outer Limits, aliens again!
2015: Lady Sharpe in Crimson Peak, del Toro’s most misunderstood film; look at Jones’s ghost moves! After the Angel of Death, another instance of Jones playing a vengeful, supernatural female character.
2015: The metahuman villain Deathbolt in the DC Comics adaptations Arrow and The Flash, both on the CW. He can shoot plasma FROM HIS EYES; this is fine.
2014 through 2016: The Ancient, one of the original seven vampires, in The Strain, the FX show created by del Toro and based on the book he also wrote. This may be the grossest of them all, I think. That bloody throat thing is just … ugh.
2017: The titular villain in The Bye Bye Man, a movie that is not good but does feature Jones making the unsettling most of his long limbs.
2017: Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water. It’s kind of amazing to me what Jones pulls off with this performance—the ways he veers between gentleness and ferocity, the empathy he shows for Elisa while he dances with her while trapped in his water tank, and yes, even the way his physicality is a mix of imposing and stunning. I’m not personally saying I would have sex with the Amphibian Man, but I do get why Elisa does, and I think that’s a testament to both him and Hawkins and the romantic bond they build together.
And finally, 2017 to now: Lt. Saru in Star Trek: Discovery (which we unfortunately didn’t like very much) on CBS All Access.
Your thoughts? Are you also rooting for The Shape of Water at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4? Do you think there are any acting awards Jones could ever be nominated for, or will he be forever overlooked? (Similar to how I feel about Andy Serkis—GIVE THE MAN AN OSCAR.) Any Jones performances or characters you particularly enjoy? Meet me in the comments!
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